Opinion
Various

Liberalism – Target of Russian and Anti-Western Propaganda in Georgia

19 December, 2019

Extremist groups were especially active in Georgia in the past years, trying to spread pro-Russian, nationalist messages through violent methods. In recent years, the groups that popularize the same messages through attacking liberalism are becoming stronger.

“Liberal ideology has outlived its purpose,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in the interview with Financial Times this summer.

Putin explained his remarks with the following arguments:

“This liberal idea presupposes that nothing needs to be done. You can kill, plunder and rape with impunity because you are a migrant and your rights as migrants have to be protected. Which rights? You violated - you must be punished. The idea itself has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.”

Such narrative is the main line of the Russian propaganda machine; in particular, this machine is trying to convince the broad public that it is immoral to protect migrants’ rights, because they are committing brutal crimes; it is immoral to protect the rights of sexual or religious minorities, because it is perceived as a disease and a sin by the majority of the population, and so on. In its messages, the Kremlin names liberalism and liberalism-based Western values, protecting the freedoms and rights of each and every citizen, as the source of these “immoralities.”

Migrants, sexual and religious minorities are the key issues used by the far-right groups in Germany to carry out a disinformation campaign, says Karolin Schwarz of Faktenfinder, the Germany-based fact-checking platform.

An information portal Salte (Civil Alternative) was founded in Georgia in January 2019.

“Our goal is to ensure that this format serves the concentration of public opinion, where our national interests will be collected,” – this is how a Salte representative explained the purpose of their platform during the inaugural program.

As explained in the video materials posted on Salte.ge, the storm against liberalism is nothing but the commitment to national interests and national values. 

“Liberal paradigm has collapsed and it has reached Georgia too,” Philosopher Zaza Shatirishvili of Salte said in the program on assessing the summer developments, particularly the ECHR ruling on Rustavi 2 TV ownership dispute and the developments following the so called “Gavrilov night.”

The program hosts are joking about the issue of Russian influences, in particular, the Kremlin’s participation in the U.S. and EU elections, Brexit and so on. For example, one of the programs is about the issue of Anaklia deep sea port project with the hosts discussing the issue of Russia’s influence in this context and joking about this theory.

During the same program, one of the hosts informs the audience that Georgia’s NATO membership is an ephemeral idea, which should not be reflected in the constitution. In another program, the hosts are claiming that it is crucial to restore relations with Russia.

“Modern liberalism wants to replace Christianity and to distance Christianity not only from politics, but from culture as well,” – this is how philosopher Zaza Shatirishvili explains his critical attitude towards liberalism. He made these remarks in the Imedi TV program SWOT Analysis. Shatirishvili noted that “it was one of the moments typical for Georgian liberalism that the West, generally, is a liberal project” and that “Georgian audience was told that the West and liberalism are the same.” Zaza Shatirishvili said that the new, liberal West is in conflict with the traditional West, naming Donald Trump’s election as the U.S. President as the starting point for the burial of liberalism.

Nika Laliashvili, the host of the video program, refers to liberals as “witches,” who confront Christian religion, though in fact, they support secularism as well as separation of government and religious institutions; according to him, liberals represent “an aggressive minority” in Georgia; however, in fact, they demand protection of citizens’ rights regardless of their religious, sexual or other belongings and counter discrimination.

Cooperation with disinformation campaign actors

Salte frequently gives the floor to the representatives of ultranationalist online media outlet Alt-Info. In turn, ultranationalist Facebook pages, such as “Alt-Info • ალტ-ინფო” and “ანტილიბერალური კლუბი (Anti-Liberal Club)” frequently spread Salte’s video programs.

The Myth Detector has released a number of publications spotting fake reports spread by Alt-Info. Alt-Info uses manipulations or covers fake reports on various issues, among them religious and sexual minority rights, migrants, etc. These are the issues actively used by Russian disinformation campaign actors throughout the world.

As far as “Anti-liberal Club” is concerned, besides the Myth Detector, FactCheck is also releasing materials on fake news published by this page. Fake reports mainly cover the issues of migrants. In particular, according to these materials, migrants are rampaging through the streets of Madrid and raiding stores in Britain. The anti-liberal page openly notes in its “About us” section that “the purpose of the page is to criticize liberal ideology and unveil its negative sides.”

The pages sharing Salte’s materials:

1

Government affiliation

The portal Salte offers its viewers thematic discussions on preliminary selected topics with relevant hosts affiliated with the government or the ruling party’s influential groups.

Alexi (Akia) Barbakadze and Giorgi Tavdgiridze host the programs on defense issues. Barbakadze was appointed as an adviser at the President’s Administration in 2014. Later in 2016, he became the Deputy Secretary of the National Security Council. After Salome Zourabichvili’s election as the President, he was again nominated to the position of the President’s adviser, but soon in January 2019 he resigned. As for Giorgi Tavdgiridze, he serves as the Deputy Head of Reserve and Mobilization Department of the Defense Ministry’s National Guard.

Bidzina Giorgobiani hosts the programs on environmental and agricultural issues. Giorgobiani served as the head of the Department of Green Spaces and Environment of Tbilisi City Hall under Georgian Dream’s rule. He was actively involved in the election campaign supporting Salome Zourabichvili.  

The section of politics on Salte.ge is led by Soso Manjavidze. Until 2014, Manjavidze was one of the leading figures of pro-Russian political party Alliance of Patriots of Georgia; however, following the confrontation with Irma Inashvili, leader of the party, Manjavidze had to quit the party. Manjavidze was a member of the previous Tbilisi City Council (Sakrebulo).

Painter Shota Glurjidze leads the section of culture. Glurjidze was actively involved in the campaign supporting Salome Zourabichvili during the 2018 presidential elections. Prior to joining Salte, Glurjidze led the cycle of video discussions called “Workshop.” A great part of its programs are dedicated to discrediting LGBT community and strengthening a stigma against them.

The section of education is led by Zaza Shatirishvili. Shatirishvili was approved as a member of the Georgian Public Broadcaster’s Board of Trustees in March 2018 upon the parliamentary majority’s nomination. So, he had to sell a 16% share in government-affiliated online television POSTV. Lasha Natsvlishvili also had to sell his 16% share in POSTV and to resign from the executive director’s position after he moved to the position of Georgian Dream’s Communications and PR adviser. Previously, Natsvlishvili served as the first deputy chief prosecutor. In December 2018, Zaza Shatirishvili left the public broadcaster, citing his plans to launch a new television.   

The section of demography on Salte.ge is led by Zviad Tomaradze, who chairs the Georgian Demographic Society XXI. Among the founders of the organization are: Levan Vasadze, businessman; Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, leaders of the movement Lelo; Lasha Papashvili, founder of REDIX; Zaza Nishnianidze, founder of Maidan Group; Giorgi Tevdorashvili, one of the owners of Palitra Holding; demographers Anzor Totadze and Tamar Chiburdanidze-Lomtadze. Zviad Tomaradze is the author of several bills, initiated in the Parliament by MP Emzar Kvitsiani of the Alliance of Patriots faction. Emzar Kvitsiani has publicly stated that he had cooperated with Russia’s GRU. Earlier, Tomaradze’s bill on removal of gender identity from the anti-discrimination law was submitted to the Parliament by former majority lawmaker, Soso Jachvliani.   

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  • Russia uses different strategies in different countries to strengthen its influences. In the past years, activities and influences of extremist groups with pro-Russian messages were quite obvious in Georgia. Among them were ultranationalist organizations, such as Georgian March, Georgian Force, National Unity of Georgia, etc. These groups were using violent methods, protest rallies, manifestations, physical confrontation. Such actions by the above mentioned groups were encouraged by the government. No adequate sanctions were used against them. The groups were mainly attacking LGBT activists, feminists, rights activists, migrants. Through this way they were popularizing Russian propaganda messages, according to which the West compels the country to lose its national identity through promoting same-sex marriage or mass resettlement of migrants.  
  • Imposing sanctions against leaders of these groups in recent years and limiting the sources of their financing confirmed that the influence of their patrons in the government has relatively weakened. However, other groups, who popularize the same Russian messages in another form, are becoming stronger. The actions by these groups are less radical; they do not use violent rallies, dispersals, physical confrontation. Their strategy is based on mobilization and use of intellectual and financial resources, as well as information technologies against liberal values. 
  • These groups have close links with the government. 

Maya Metskhvarishvili
Journalist at Studio Monitor especially for Myth Detector

The article is published within the framework of the project #FIGHTFAKE, which is implemented by MDF in cooperation with its partner organisation Deutsche Gesellschaft e.V.